Web Extra! Read Sharon Patchak-Layman’s statement to the board, (scroll down)
The District 200 Board of Education last Thursday voted 4-3 to censure member Sharon-Patchak Layman. The vote came after 45 minutes of discussion during the board’s regular meeting last week. Patchak-Layman is accused of having a conflict of interest by “advocating” for a parent who has filed a complaint with the state against the school.
Prior to Thursday’s vote, she had been asked by fellow members to recuse herself from closed-session talks about this specific case, but she has refused to do so.
Ralph Lee and Dietra Millard voted against the censure. Patchak-Layman was also able to cast a no vote. John Rigas, John Allen, Valerie Fisher and President Jacques Conway voted for the censure.
The vote came at around 9:30 p.m., following the board’s earlier business.
Conway later read the censure resolution, citing the Illinois Association of School Boards’ Code of Conduct policy, which states, in part, that a board member “shall avoid any conflict of interest or the appearance of impropriety,” and that no member “shall take private action that might compromise the board or administration.”
Patchak-Layman then read an 8-minute statement, asserting that she does not have a conflict, was unaware of any complaint when she initially helped the parent, and has not been biased during the process. She maintains that censure is unwarranted.
“Let me begin by saying that this is a very uncomfortable position to be in, both for me and I believe for the rest of the board,” she said, adding that she’s never said she was the parent’s advocate.
She does acknowledge accompanying the parent at the parent’s request to a meeting with an OPRF High School administrator in September.
Patchak-Layman said that, according to the parent, the meeting was scheduled.
But in voting for censure, Conway argued that Patchak-Layman was used by the parent to influence an administrator and to circumvent a board policy that the parent disagreed with.
“The meeting was not scheduled,” Conway said, explaining that Patchak-Layman and the parent showed up unexpectedly to the school to confront the administrator.
“You may not have said a word, but your appearance there put him in a position where he felt handicapped under those circumstances,” Conway said.
In explaining his vote, Rigas said the parent e-mailed members accusing them of trying to keep their “advocate” out of closed-session meetings.
“All of this is about advocating, and if you want to do that, then you have to remove yourself from the action,” he said.
Millard believed there was a conflict, but that board members also have a role in advocating on behalf of parents to resolve issues.
Millard, though, noted that once a parent takes legal action against the school, a board member should recuse him or herself.
“This is what’s been conflictual for me in terms of understanding Sharon’s action,” she said. “Once a compliant is filed, that needs to be resolved before that particular person can be involved in executive session as it relates to what’s going on with this complaint.”
Earlier in the meeting, several people spoke during public comments against the censure, including Wyanetta Johnson, president of APPLE (African-American Parents for Purposeful Leadership in Education), who accused the board of hypocrisy.
“If Sharon is voted against, then I think this board should close down because every last one of you are guilty of the same thing you’re accusing her of,” she said.
RESOLUTION OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF OAK PARK AND RIVER FOREST HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT NO 200 REBUKING BOARD MEMBER SHARON PATCHAK-LAYMAN FOR CERTAIN ACTIONS VIOLATING THE BOARD CODE OF CONDUCT AND HER OATH OF OFFICE
WHEREAS, School Board Policy 20-III adopts the Illinois Association of School Boards’ Code of Conduct for Members of School Boards, which, among other obligations, requires the following described conduct from each Board member:
Each Board member shall avoid any conflict of interest or the appearance of impropriety which could result from my position, and shall not use my board membership for personal gain or publicity.
Each Bard member shall recognize that a Board member has no legal authority as an individual and that decisions can be made only by a majority vote at a Board meeting.
No Board member shall take private action that might compromise the Board or administration and shall respect the confidentiality of privileged information.
Each Board member shall abide by majority decisions of the Board, while retaining the right to seek changes in such decisions through ethical and constructive channels.
WHEAREAS, ach Board member is additionally statutorily required to take an oath of office prior to serving as a Board member under Section 10-16.5 of the Illinois School code (105 ILCS 5/10-16.5), which oath Board of Education Policy 20-III adopts; and
WHEAREAS, under the oath required by Section 10-16.5 of the School code and Board Policy 20-III, board members commit to the following: (i) recognizing that a Board member has no legal authority as an individual and that decisions can be made only by a majority vote at a public Board meeting and (ii) abiding by majority decisions of the Board, while retaining the right to seek changes in such decisions in ethical and constructive channels; and
WHEAREAS, at its January 245, 2008 regular meeting, the Board of Education examined certain actions allegedly committed by Board member Patchak-Layman, which appeared to violate her oath of office and Board Policy 20-III, and gave Bard member Patchak-Layman an opportunity to explain those action; and
WHEREAS, those alleged actions included the following:
1. Without the approval of the Board of Education, Board member Patchak-Layman acted in her individual capacity and in an unconstructive manner by advocating for a student and parent in a special education matter and used her position as a Board member in an attempt to unduly influence the decision of School District staff.
2. After acting as an advocate in said special education matter and after litigation was failed against the Board of Education in said matter, Board member Patchak-Layman participated in closed Board meetings where matters were discussed that the Board deemed confidential, thereby creating the appearance of impropriety on Board member Patchak-Layman’s part and calling into question her obligation to act in an impartial and unbiased manner on matters before the Board of Education.
WHEREAS, the Board of Education has determined after discussing the issue in open session at its January 24, 2008 Board meeting, and providing Ms. Patchak-Layman with an opportunity to explain her actions at such meting, that Ms. Patchak-Layman has in fact committed the above actions and violated both her oath of office and Board Policy 20-III;
NOW, THEREFORE, be it hereby resolved by the Board of Education of Oak Park and River Forest High School District No. 200, Cook County, Illinois, as follows:
1. The foregoing recitals are hereby found to be full, true and correct and are incorporated into the Resolution by reference as if set forth fully herein.
2. The Board of Education finds that Board member Patchak-Layman violated her oath of office and Board Policy 20-IIIwhen she committed the actions outlined in the recitals above.
3. Pursuant to its powers under the Illinois School code, including Section 10-20 (105 ILCS 5/10-20), the board of Education hereby formally rebuked Board member Patchak-Layman for her actions described in this Resolution.
Sharon Patchak-Layman’s statement
Let me begin by saying – this is a very uncomfortable position to be in both for me and I believe for the rest of the board. And while it has taken me some time to figure out the positive in all of this, one did emerge. This opportunity to re-examine my beliefs and actions has strengthened my commitment, as an elected official, to work to achieve —
-rules and interpretations of those rules that are known and easily accessible to all
-processes that are open, accessible, respectful and empowering for all
-decision making that is inclusive and values the dynamic power of diversity in thought and deed, and
-providing to each student, based on their potential, an academically excellent course of study that will move every student above and beyond today.
Now, to the specifics of the motion on the table. I have divided my comments into 3 sections.
1st, I will try to describe my motivation for the actions I took,
2nd, I will describe the actions I took and
3rd, I will pose some questions and concerns I have related to the motion as presented.
And, as an additional point of information, I will not submit to cross examination.
I am deeply committed, and some would say even passionate, about empowering citizens to be equal participants, to be on a level playing field, in the decision making, work and life of government. And specifically, in the decision making, work and life of schools. This means helping to explain, collect, discuss information, alert citizens to time lines for action for whatever the question or concern raised and to share what I have and know. It means making sure the decisions we make do not leave out meaningful citizen input. And I have a special interest: to empower citizens, who have been left out or marginalized. I strive to be available without reservation, judgment or litmus test to support their equal participation in this school.
This is combined with an equal passion to provide an excellent education for students at the HS. And for those students whose academic achievement is not keeping pace with their potential, I am prepared to consider all possible routes to success. One part of that formula is empowering families to be part of the conversation. Parents and students who are estranged from this school need to be encouraged to be part of their children’s plan for success. Minority families and families with special education students have often spoken about being estranged and not part of the fabric of this school. It is my responsibility to help them and when asked, I will. It is an advocacy for all and not specific to one.
As I have read the board goals for 07-08, both empowering families and academic achievement are both noted. “1) improve the academic achievement for all students with an emphasis on minority and sp.ed. students and 2) improve school climate among students and staff by increasing student and parent efficacy within the school.”
So when a request came to me from a parent who was anxious, concerned, and feeling estranged from the school but ready to try to change the situation. I listened. And when she asked if I would go to a meeting with a senior school administrator. I agreed. This meeting happened Sept.22, a Monday morning. The meeting was not easy. The senior administrator handled the meeting professionally. The parent was occasionally distraught. But as I left the meeting with the parent, I felt hopeful. That perhaps, we were turning a corner on what had been a very bitter history between the parent and the school.
On Sept.25, the following Thursday, there was a regular board mtg. And it was in the executive session at this mtg, that I found out my action – attending a meeting with a parent was interpreted as advocacy. And because I was an advocate, I had a conflict of interest as it pertained to this parent and the school and a complaint that had been filed. Much of that meeting was spent questioning whether I had a conflict of interest. I said I didn’t and others said I did. The superintendent reported that our lawyer had given him case law that said I was an advocate. I am not a lawyer. After hearing that there was case law, and not knowing what the documents said, believing a lawyer was present, and hearing that the discussion would be specific to due process, I excused myself from the conversation and left the room.
My only thoughts when I left the meeting, was how could a conflict of interest have happened by accompanying a parent to a meeting. Besides asking lots of lawyers, and anyone interested in the definition of conflict of interest, advocacy and a board member, I requested from the Bd.Pres., the document that was referenced and also asked to listen to the tapes of the mtg. Both occurred, along with the confounding information, that a lawyer had not been present at the executive session. The case law document covered 3 cases, none of which proved to me that I was an advocate with a conflict of interest. 1 case involved a board member who had a child with an IEP, who filed for a due process against her district. Another case involved needing to recuse yourself if you have private interest outside of your official capacities and that you can’t be both a park district member and an alderman and finally, a case stating a conflict of interest for a person who is both a police officer and an elected trustee. You must have undivided loyalty.
In continuing to think about the issue of conflict of interest, I came to believe that it is the public community that needs to know if a member has a conflict of interest. It was not just an announcement to other board members. At the Oct. bd. Mtg., I truthfully believed and announced as such, before the vote to go into closed session, that I did not have a conflict of interest. It was again discussed in executive session, without resolution. The same happened in Nov. And then in Dec., at the regularly scheduled bd.mtg., there was a discussion at the board table before the closed session on this same question of conflict of interest. And now we have the motion before us.
24 hours ago, when I first saw this motion to rebuke me, I was struck by how my definition and understanding of the code of conduct is so different from the resolution writer. I have always understood “take no private action” to include don’t do anything that would put you in a police line-up, don’t use the school mailing list or give it out, don’t tell a potential bidder what are the special things the board is looking for. So in addition to being confused by the definition of private action, I would like to know, where is the board policy defining the following terms that appear in the resolution: “conflict of interest,” “appearance of impropriety,” “no legal authority,” “advocating,” and “unduly influence?” In the absence of such definitions, there is no basis for this rebuke.
Much or what has been characterized of what I have said and done has been using words I have not said. The board has continued to transfer the words that the parent has used to be my words. They are not.
I continue to believe that I have not had, and do not have, a conflict of interest, and that I can participate in board deliberations in an impartial and unbiased manner. I will continue to work for the best possible education for all children.